14.04.32, Cayley and Powell, eds., Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, 1350-1550

Main Article Content

Cynthia J. Brown

The Medieval Review 14.04.32

Cayley, Emma and Susan Powell. Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, 1350-1550: Packaging, Presentation and Consumption. Exeter Studies in Medieval Europe: History, Society, and the Arts. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013. Pp. xx, 327. ISBN: 9780859898706.

Reviewed by:
Cynthia J. Brown
University of California, Santa Barbara

Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe 1350-1550: Packaging, Presentation and Consumption, co-edited by Emma Cayley and Susan Powell, offers fourteen wide-ranging studies, mostly treating late medieval English book culture, that are organized around the materiality of the book and its presentation for consumption; the consumers themselves, including book producers, owners and readers; and writing about consumption. This interdisciplinary collection of articles contains contributions from historians of art, codicology, the book, culture, economics and literature. Studies of book bindings, ruling patterns, the layout and ordering of texts and miniature programs set the stage for discussions of the importation of books into London, the acquisition of volumes by late medieval London mercers, the purchase and reproduction of early printed books by 19th- century members of the Roxburghe Club, the controlled circulation of potentially dangerous religious works in certain communities, and the production of texts with or for women. Investigations surrounding literal and metaphoric consumption take the form of a discussion of the narrative and material nature of recipes, an analysis of literary anxieties related to food and drink in Chaucer and Wittenwiler, and an investigation of the figure of the fool as seen in Caxton's famous Pilgrims at Table woodcut. An assessment of the bodily use of manuscript prayers related to Saints Quiricus and Julitta for spiritual protection during childbirth and an investigation of erotic and corporal allusions surrounding the multifaceted French proverbial expression "to have or put a flea in [some]one's ear" in debate poems round out the volume.

In "How Can We Recognise 'Contemporary' Bookbindings of the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries?" Anne Marie Lane examines 15th- and 16th-century bindings in a specific collection (Toppan Rare Books Library, University of Wyoming, Laramie) as a form of packaging that demonstrates how binders worked to both protect books and provide an aesthetic experience for readers. She discusses what is meant by contemporary bindings and the difficulties raised with later alterations, reviews geographical differences among bindings, and investigates various covering materials as well metal furnishings, clasps and stamp-tooled ornamentation from the period. Her study reveals how books were well used (consumed) but not destroyed (consumed).

Matti Peikola's article on late medieval English prose religious texts, with a focus on manuscripts of Gower's Confessio Amantis, the Wycliffite Bible, and the Pore Caitif tradition ("Guidelines for Consumption: Scribal Ruling Patterns and Designing the Mise-en-page in Later Medieval England"), contextualizes and interprets ruling patterns in these works, an underutilized codicological feature for research, according to the author. Insight is provided into the functional and aesthetic motivations and constraints surrounding these choices. Anticipating different forms and contexts of readerly consumption, scribes, opting for an array of ruling patterns, were influenced by economics, their own expertise and preferences, the influence of exemplars or earlier manuscripts they had copied, trends toward standardization, the physical size of the manuscript folio, the genre of the text, the language and script of the work copied, and even efforts to make a manuscript look older.

In "The Order of the Lays in the 'Odd' Machaut MS BnF, fr. 9221 (E)," Kate Maxwell compares the ordering of lays in a posthumous manuscript of Guillaume de Machaut's work with their presentation in other extant manuscripts. She argues that although the later MS BnF fr. 9221 deviates from the others in some respects, it is not as "odd" as other scholars have maintained, its arrangement of lays in the centrally- located musical section displaying "considerable internal unity" (47). She suggests, however, that rather than promoting the author-figure, like other manuscripts, this particular presentation may have been designed to attract a patron's eye, possibly that of the author's patron, Jean de Luxembourg.

Also revealing in a new light a manuscript heretofore considered to be secondary, Sonja Drimmer presents one of the most engaging discussions in this volume by comparing two iconographic programs designed for Lydgate's Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund ("Picturing the King or Picturing the Saint: Two Miniature Programmes for John Lydgate's Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund"). Despite Lydgate's deftly balanced staging of "royal and religious competition and interdependence" (50) in his work, these two pictorial cycles diverge significantly because of their different audiences. While illuminations in MS Harley 2278, donated to King Henry VI by the abbot of the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, invite the reader to match Edmund's monarchic and saintly ideals in a mirroring of the prince-spectator, miniatures in Yates Thompson 57, a manuscript that ended up in the hands of a wealthy but non-royal family member (perhaps Elizabeth Fitzwalter of Attleborough), are dramatically different, as they reject the royal-political agenda of the king's manuscript by focusing more on the saint himself as a creator of miracles and object of devotion. Drimmer argues that the striking absence of a donor portrait in this manuscript, which functions more like a reliquary than a mirror or prop, likely invited readers to enter the gap and evaluate differently their relationship to the saint.

In the final article in Section I, Yvonne Rode provides an economic study of the importation of books into London between 1480 and 1540 ("Sixty-three Gallons of Books: Shipping Books to London in the Late Middle Ages") by examining customs accounts and using an Access database to trace the trade from craft to business venture. Providing detailed tables and analysis of changes in the ways books were shipped, the manner in which they were described and the growing specialization in the importation of books, she fills in a missing perspective in early book history.

Section II, which concentrates on consumers, opens with Anna Lewis's discussion of "John Colop's Book and the Spiritual Diet of the Discerning Lay Londoner," in which she focuses on the contents of a common-profit anthology, CUL MS Ff.vi.31, based in part on St. Bernard's guidance on a healthy approach to learning. Packaging reading as a meal to be shared with others by providing a safe communal place for the consumption of difficult and even dangerous religious material during a period in England of great suspicion about "Free Spiritism" and individual religious fervor, this book offers access to the "right" way and proper spiritual diet for growing and knowing as a Christian; it teaches safe and responsible reading traditions through humility, accountability and a willingness to take wisdom from superiors and subordinate oneself to the community.

Briefly referencing the previous article's John Colop in the context of mercers' involvement in the milieu of common-profit books, Anne Sutton provides a lengthy, detailed description of the books of devotion and pleasure acquired by mercers of late medieval London ("The Acquisition and Disposal of Books for Worship and Pleasure by mercers of London in the Later Middle Ages"). Buttressed by meticulous research on wills, inventories and surviving texts and a particular focus on missals, legenda, portiforia, primers and psalters, Sutton underscores the mercers' curiosity about contemporary religious controversies and their role as central figures in the dissemination of the new religion through its books in the early 1500s.

Martha Driver's study of women and book production in the early Tudor period ("'By Me Elyzabeth Pykerying': Women and Book Production in the Early Tudor Period") analyzes a host of females names associated with publications, pointing out that French female printers such as Yolande Bonhomme and Madeleine Boursette, were the first to print English books, while Widow Warwick was the first named female printer in England. Whereas books from the French press books tended to be orthodox, those from Catherine van Ruremund in Antwerp were more radical, hinting at a personal interest in reform. Driver also suggests that the early, active but brief career of Elizabeth Pickering may well have exceeded early 16th-cenutury English guild stipulations that women had to be associated with a male in the book trade, since she used her own printer's mark and colophon wording that was decidedly distinct from that of her deceased husband.

In "The Roxburghe Club: Consumption, Obsession and the Passion for Print," Shayne Husbands sheds light on the complex makeup of the 19th- century Roxburghe Club, whose highly criticized interests in early printers (rather than manuscript makers) and early English literature were in fact instrumental in preserving and eventually bringing value to these works, many of which members reproduced on private printing presses. Recognizing the group's lack of focus on class difference, Husbands suggests that the hostility surrounding the members may have been related to a fear of the loss of social boundaries in this intellectual world.

The volume's final section on "Writing Consumption," much of which centers on how the consumption of food was inscribed in late medieval works, opens with Carrie Griffin's reconsideration of recipes, considered both as records of bodily consumption and as important and unusual examples of narratives that were themselves consumed in unpredictable ways ("Reconsidering the Recipe: Materiality, Narrative and Text in Later Medieval Instructional Manuscripts and Collections"). Increasingly studied as more than records of personal and private tastes, medieval recipes are providing researchers important cultural insight into general popular trends and developments of the period. Recognizing that their subject matter and mise-en-page vary enormously, Griffin calls attention to the problematic cataloguing of these short texts that were consumed as individual pieces but existed as well as parts of collections in which they sometimes remain buried.

Anamaria Gellert's examination of Caxton's famous Pilgrims at Table woodcut as an introduction to and comment on the Canterbury Tales pilgrims in his 1483 edition sets the stage for her investigation of the fool, a figure that is not explicitly included among Chaucer's pilgrims and has been largely overlooked by critics; of the medieval concept of folly; and of Chaucer's repeated use of related terms ("Fools, 'Folye' and Caxton's Woodcut of the Pilgrims at Table"). Underscoring the remarkable proliferation of words related to folly during the Middle Ages and the variety of its associations, Gellert analyzes its religious, medical and literary forms in the Parson's Tale, the Tale of Melibee, and the Knight's Tale, suggesting that the Caxton woodcut fool was perceived as an element of disorder meant to subvert and shed new light on the themes of wisdom and penitence.

John Block Friedman's comparative study of the way food and drink conveyed class anxiety in Geoffrey Chaucer's and Heinrich Wittenwiler's works ("Anxieties at Table: Food and Drink in Chaucer's Fabliaux Tales and Heinrich Wittenwiler's Der Ring") argues that some kind of intertextuality informed these writings, even though Chaucer was apparently unfamiliar with German literature. Friedman locates correspondences between characters, themes, and the use of structural plot devices in Chaucer's Miller's Tale and Reeve's Tale and scenes in Wittenwiler's Der Ring, especially in the authors' treatment of voracious middle-class and peasant consumption and the more measured appetites of the nobility, with matching parodic courtly serenades exemplifying the association between the Swiss German and English writers.

In "Alongside St Margaret: The Childbirth Cult of SS Quiricus and Julitta in Late Medieval English Manuscripts," Mary Morse investigates the childbirth cult of Saints Quiricus and Julitta and its variations in six late medieval English manuscript rolls containing their prayers and accompanying cross iconography. Some of these rolls, which exhibit signs of rubbing, ostensibly served as birth girdles that were physically placed on a woman's body during labor for protection and for spiritual bonding with Christ's pain, Mary's sorrow and heavenly reward and reunion in eternal joy. With the 4th-century martyrdom of the three-year-old Quiricus and his mother Julitta most likely transmitted by an English translation of Voragine's Legenda Aurea, the saints' cult gained momentum during the mid-14th century, especially in southwest England and Cornwall, and was further popularized by Anglo-Norman or Angevin crusaders in church dedications.

In the volume's final article Emma Cayley examines the proverb "avoir/mettre la puce en l'oreille" (to have or put a flea in someone's ear) in 15th-century French debate poetry ("Consuming the Text: Pulephilia in Fifteenth-Century French Debate Poetry"), arguing that this expression relating to unsatisfied sexual desire is also associated with the lack of resolution in debate poems, given that both feature the yearning for "all-consuming communion" as well as the lack of resolution and of the loved one. An account of the flea tradition in French literature and particular patterns of its transmission introduces Cayley's focus on Alain Chartier's Debat Reveille Matin (Debate of the Morning Wake Up Call) (c. 1423) and Guillaume Alexis's Debat de l'omme mondaine et du religieulx (Debate of the Worldly Man and the Monk) (c. 1450), works existing side by side in numerous manuscripts, in which male interlocutors end up excluding women from the debate through mutual consoling discussion. Male friendship and conversation thereby substitute for "the longed-for 'consumption' of the beloved" (214) and this generation of additional words through the desire of physical and verbal intercourse reveals in fact how the text is produced and consumed by the debaters.

While correspondences among the articles are sometimes tenuous and do not necessarily yield a coherent whole and a better balance of studies of English and Continental bookmaking and packaging might have enhanced the collection, most of the individual pieces are of a high quality. In the end, students and scholars alike are given the opportunity to learn about unfamiliar phases of book production and consumption, which might well inspire new avenues of research.

Article Details

Author Biography

Cynthia J. Brown

University of California, Santa Barbara